We managed to walk past Story once but, when we finally find it, wonder how we could have missed it. It looks a bit like a house from a fairy tale, incongruous on the London street. Inside it is warm and bright. Books line the walls, making it feel curiously cosy considering the size and nature of the space and the fact that there is a glass walled, brightly lit kitchen set to one side of the dining area (a waiter later tells us that the main kitchen is downstairs so this may be chiefly for show and plating).
The menu is simple - six courses or ten courses. We, of course, opt for ten, despite the fact we have advanced notice that the table is only ours for two hours. As it turns out we are there for over three, and a good thing too, for while only ten courses are advertised, we tot up that we actually chomp our way through twenty two platefuls. I've read reviews that suggest each dish is linked to the "story" theme but I think this conceit must have been dispensed with, or at least relaxed, by the time we go and while some have nods to memory and nostalgia, in general the food is best described as very modern, very respectful of its component parts and, occasionally, very challenging. We loved it.
The meal kicks off with a few quick fire "snack" rounds. It's difficult to identify a favourite. The crispy cod skin is remarkable - like a very thin, fishy version of a pork scratching. I adore the radishes filled with kelp butter and deeply savoury rabbit "cakes" while D is particularly taken with the whole prawns - head and tail roasted, body raw - that need to be popped in a single mouthful, and the oyster and rye on courgette flower.
I was excited to try the "bread and dripping course", which I'd already read about online, although more for the novelty value than the actual taste. This has to be the kitschiest presented course I have ever eaten anywhere - a candle is brought to the table and lit when you first sit down:
and after you've finished the snacks, warm bread and jellied veal tongue and pickles are brought along for you to (get this) dunk in the melted candle wax! Which is actually beef dripping! Beautiful novelty aside, it turns out that beef dripping smeared on slightly salty bread is a Very Good Thing indeed. In fact, one of my biggest criticisms of Story is that they do not bring us more bread after we have demolished the first couple of rolls. They probably want us to save room.
But, since we're on the subject - let's talk about the negatives for a moment. Two of the dishes on the ten course menu I had issues with. The pig, chicken and langoustine, which I expected to adore, was not nice - an overly set chicken mousse wrapped in squidgily gelatinous pigs' trotter that really suffered from a lack of textural contrast. And the prune tea with lovage and milk - well, it turned out that the milk component was milk skin draped over the fruit. I found this deeply unpleasant. I am a serial custard avoider because of the possibility of skin. Now, I accept that both of these quibbles are primarily down to personal preference as opposed to a lack of skill in the kitchen. And the thing is, when you've got an exciting young chef experimenting with flavours and textures and techniques then you are going to get hits and misses - I remember vividly not enjoying at least one course when we went to both The Fat Duck and Noma and these are regarded as two of the finest restaurants in the world. Tasting menus mean that you end up eating things that you would never normally order, and sometimes this means an absolute taste sensation and sometimes it means that it's not quite your cup of tea, but being open minded and accepting the challenge of the new is all part of the experience.
And the highs at Story were really very high indeed. The venison with yeast and elderberry, oh, it was just fantastic:
Plus one of the unexpected real treats on the menu turned out to be one of the dishes that sounded the least flashy - potato, turnip and coal oil:
The potato was as whipped and smooth as it is possible for a potato to be, with peppery kicks from the raw turnip and deep savoury notes from the coal oil. It was blissful. Actually, the only thing that could possibly have improved either of these two courses would have been to serve a dollop of the potato on the side of the venison.
Desserts, overall, were the least successful part of the meal to my mind. There were some interesting flavour combinations - who would have thought that almond and dill work so well together in a sweet context:
And I loved the sherberty sourness of the sea buckthorne pre-dessert palate cleanser. But we thought that the Scandinavian influence was very apparent in the puddings which is a little alien to the English palate - and seems a shame given this island's fantastic heritage of rib sticking puds. Again, this may be more of a matter of personal taste, but I would have loved (especially given the Story USP) to see something along the lines of gingerbread houses and chocolate soldiers or some riffs on British dessert classics (like Simon Rogan's truly phenomenal stiffy tacky pudding).
The petits fours were fabulous though - yellow plum puree with buttermilk foam served in school milk bottles with stripy straws:
And Mr Tunnock would have been proud at the rose and raspberry flavoured take on a teacake.
Minor gripes aside, Restaurant Story is the kind of place that reminds me why I love modern food and clever, modern chefs. I can't wait to go back. Although next time I will be taking along some bread rolls in my handbag....